India could well be called the land of festivals. The amalgamation of difference cultures, languages and religions ensures that there is a festival being celebrated in some part of India almost every week. One of the more popular festivals which are celebrated all over Gujarat is Navratri. It is one the most colourful festival of Gujarat. In Gujarat, people eagerly wait for the 9 nights (Navratri) when they worship goddess Durga/Amba Mata through the traditional dance, Garba.
Navratri is one of the holy festivals of Hinduism. Navratri festival is observed twice a year, once in the month of Chaitra (March-April) and then in Aswayuja (September-October). It lasts for nine days in honour of the nine manifestations of Durga. During Navratri devotees of Durga observe a fast, Brahmins are fed and prayers are offered for the protection of health and property. Navratri begins on the first day of Aswayuja. People worship the mother goddess and her numerous manifestations during the festival. The three aspects – Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati are worshipped during Navratri, portraying destructive, protective, and knowledge giving roles respectively. Navratri is closely followed by the Sharad Purnima, the full moon night in the Ashvin month; when under the moonlight people partake ‘prasad’ (food as a religious offering) of rice and milk. Durga/Amba Mata or the destructive face of the divine mother is worshipped during the first three nights. On the succeeding three nights, her protective face of Lakshmi and on the last three nights, her knowledge face or Saraswati are worshipped.
The most popular dances of Gujarat during Navratri are the Rasa and Garba which are performed both by men and women. The leader of the group sings the first line of the song while the rest repeat it in chorus; the beat being produced by clapping hands or striking sticks in unison.
While in Raas, the dancers use sticks at the end of which tiny bells (ghungroos) are tied so that they give off a clear jingling sound when they strike one another. This dance has a very complicated rhythm pattern and even though the dancers begin in a slow tempo, the dance develops in such manner that each person in the circle not only performs a solo dance with his own sticks, but also has a complex multiple relationship with both his partners on either side as also partners opposite him in the circles. The Dandiya Rasa is obviously an ancient origin and of ritual significance. But, today in the cities and towns the dance is more like a social activity and entertainment rather than religious agricultural or fertility symbol.
The Garba is the most popular women’s folk dance in Gujarat. Pots with attractive designs are ceremoniously placed on the head and a light is placed inside. Village girls bearing pots (garbis) on their heads go from door to door and dance around the respective house. There are many variations too. Dancers from different regions have involved their own style and steps. The Garba is indeed a ceremony in which everyone can take part irrespective of caste or social position. The dances are accompanied by drums (dholak) and the vocal women. The songs of the Garba are often represents history and have been handed down through generations. Its origin seems to be a tribal dance revolving around a hunt; later it was transformed into an agricultural ritual dedicated to the goddess Ambika.
The day after Navratri i.e. the 10th day of Ashvin, is Dussera which celebrates the victory of lord Rama over Ravana. Giant effigies or dummies of Ravana stuffed with fireworks are shot with arrows until they blow up before a large, applauding audience. Ahmedabad is one of the greatest places to enjoy Navratri. Festivals like Navratri in Gujarat symbolise cultural, social and religious aspirations. They help people to live a fuller and better life, remove monotony and provide healthy recreation. They promote unity, fellow-feeling, self-discipline and austerity.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)